Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their well-being and the future of society

On International Women’s Day, Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative calls for more action to end child marriages

08 March 2024
Group of girls laughing, one puts a flower in the hair of her friend smiling (UNICEF North Macedonia)
UNICEF/North Macedonia/Georgiev/2019

Skopje, 8 March 2024: “This International Women’s Day, as we stand together to champion gender equality and prioritize women’s well-being, we cannot ignore one of the grave consequences of entrenched gender inequality – child marriages.

“Despite a steady decline in this harmful practice over the past decade, child marriage remains a concern for girls in North Macedonia. Eight percent of all women aged 20-24 years in the country were first married or in a union before they were 18 years old. Even more worrying, 45 percent of Roma women aged 20-24 years in the country were first married or in union before they were 18 years old, and 15 percent of women of the same age group were married or in union before age 15[1]

Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and has detrimental effects on their health and economic prospects. It has harmful effects on girls' development, access to education, and overall quality of life. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. It is often closely linked to early childbearing, with an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

“North Macedonia is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its two Optional Protocols, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that explicitly prohibits child marriage. Likewise, the Istanbul Convention Action against violence against women and domestic violence requires states to criminalize forced marriage of children and adults.

“While the legal age for marriage in North Macedonia is 18, exceptions that allow children to marry when they have reached 16 years of age are possible, with court approval. This creates legal loopholes for child marriages. The right to 'free and full' consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the recognition that consent cannot be 'free and full' when parties are not sufficiently mature to make informed decisions about their life partner.

“In its concluding observations issued in 2022, the UN Child Rights Committee recommended that North Macedonia needs to “implement targeted measures to eradicate child marriages and raise awareness on the negative impacts of such harmful traditional practices on children, particularly among the Roma population”. The situation calls for greater efforts to:

  • Strengthen legislation to remove any possible legal loopholes and ensure full alignment with international standards.
  • Continue to work to reduce poverty considering that poverty perpetuates the practice of child marriage. Some parents encourage the marriage of their daughters in the hope that the marriage will benefit them both financially and socially, while also relieving financial burdens on the family. To recall, 30 percent of children in North Macedonia live below the poverty line, a rate that is double than those of adults.
  • Finally, patriarchal attitudes, that prioritize traditional gender roles and family honour, at the expense of girl’s autonomy and rights need to be challenged. The decision on child marriage is often taken by male family members with the expectation that girls conform to this norm. We need more efforts to ensure communities are engaged to promote the wellbeing and realisation of every girl achieve their full potential, continue education, and be able to decide with full consent the future she wants.

“Investing in the empowerment of girls and women, their knowledge, skills, and participation, as well as in engaging with boys and men has been proven as a best practice in eradicating child marriages globally. This International Women’s Day let’s all get behind girls and continue to work to end the harmful practice.”

 


[1] Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2018-2019 and North Macedonia Roma Settlements MICS, State Statistics Office

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